The interior of the pyramid welcomed them with some relief from the blazing heat outside, but the cold had hit them so smoothly that they could not help but shiver. Stone yellow halls glistening with the firelight of strangely-lit torches, cobbled floors both soft and amazingly firm, a musty air of centuries past making them feel light-headed. The torches did little to help their way, their light not far reaching enough to extend past the corridors of darkness.
Nevertheless they soldiered on, with Kolorado in front and his assistants behind him with headlamps on. James and Koopin held the rear, with Koopin's purpose now obsolete as he became merely an extra pair of hands. FG however kept his guard up, moving his way towards the front in order to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. They had no idea what lied deep within the pyramid itself, but for the first 20 minutes, nothing came to attack. This made them uneasy, except Kolorado who merely praised the lack of encounters.
After traversing through the darkening passages, heading further and further away from the entrance, they soon found themselves within a large room. Four pillars centred in each corner of the room to uphold its integrity, grand tapestries of stone and faded silk drooping weakly from the walls. There were even stone seats, the remnants of fabrics still hanging upon them, with a grand mosaic of a complex circular dais in the very centre of the hall, with another doorway opposite of the one they came through. All six of them were in awe.
"This...this is amazing," said Kolorado with reverence, "why it...to think that our ancestors had travelled and met with those of Sarasaland, it will surely become the greatest archaeological find in history!"
"The princess will want to know about this," said Karlos.
"Which one, Daisy or Peach?"
"Both of them really, since it involves both their kingdoms. If all goes well, we might even get invited to discuss all this at the royal castle!"
"Indeed! But for me the reward is the discovery itself. Now, Kooper, will you photograph some of the more important parts of the room as well as a sweeping panorama?"
Kooper quickly took out a small box-shaped camera from his supplies, heading all over the room to photograph as much as he possibly could, while Koopmar began translating the murals for Kolorado. The professor was noting it all down, clearly fascinated with everything in the room. Even James could not help but gaze in awe at the ancient history of this whole other world, listening in on the professor and his linguist.
"Notice these creatures," said Kolorado. "Very reminiscent of goombas and koopas, following ahead of the Sarasalesians," said Kolorado.
"Ah yes," said Koopmar sagely. "Some of our ancestors left this kingdom behind to start anew elsewhere. And they clearly have different characteristics to the ones of today."
"Indeed, for starters they're far darker in colour, even the shells are black!"
"Yes, the Goombos and the Nokobons. That would most definitely prove evidence of a common ancestor in both koopas and buzzy beetles."
"Do you think perhaps, the Nokobons have a link towards the Bob-ombs due to their ahem...explosive nature?"
"Maybe, but we have no evidence so far that would link any integration between Sarasaland and Subcon yet."
"...marvellous. Absolutely marvellous."
"Sure looks like it," said FG passively to Kolorado.
"Take great honour in being not of this land James, and yet being lucky enough to witness the dawn of our kind."
"Oh I am sir, this is...I mean I never been in a ruin like this before, it's just...wow."
"Hahaha, speechless are we?! Good, this sort of discovery is difficult to express with words alone. We don't even know WHO this pyramid is for, that is who it is the resting place of but hopefully we shall soon find out. How's the camera coming along Kooper?"
"Doing great professor!" said Kooper. "The murals are coming out nicely and I made sure to get the panoramic shot!"
"Excellent my boy, excellent! Karlos, how is the integrity of this place?"
"Surprisingly sturdy," said Karlos as he examined a pillar. "The sandstone for the pillars is unusual though, it didn't come from this desert."
"Wh-what?!" asked Koopin. "What do you mean not of this desert?!"
"...as in, this pyramid wasn't built with materials from Dry Dry Desert. My guess is they must have somehow transported sandstone from Sarasaland along with the cotton print they were famous for selling."
Kolorado stammered with excitement at the mere prospect.
"Do you mean to tell me that not only did they station themselves here, but they had TRADE as well back then?! In this area!?"
"...well how else would they be able to make a living, professor?"
"Wha-doh-but that could be EVIDENCE Karlos! Evidence of a unique trading route between the Mushroom Kingdom and Sarasaland in the days of old! All we need now is some sort of manuscript, like a-a-a manifest or shipping roster!"
"Well judging from the layout of this room, this is just the living room for guests. They painted murals here to teach newcomers about the history of this place, and anything more related to business would be further in."
"Well then! Let us dig deeper chaps! Onwards!"
Heading further into the depths of the pyramid, they passed through several rooms of varying importance, each with its own story to tell within its walls. Tales of great journeys far across the sea, evidence of the growing naval trade of the inhabitants of Sarasaland, which James further asked about. According to Koopin, they were a kingdom far across the sea who were allied with the Mushroom Kingdom, whose princess was best friends with the Mushroom Kingdom's own royalty.
Their friendship came after a diplomatic journey courtesy of Mario, which Koopin could not remember all the details of at the moment.
"So wait," asked James, "this Mario is a diplomat too?"
"Not exactly, he's more like the public face of the Mushroom Kingdom. Anyone needs help, he's your guy. He's always willing to help out!"
"Huh...I wonder if I'll ever meet him."
"Who knows, if this whole expedition turns out alright they might want us at the castle! Ooooooh just imagine! I never been inside the castle before."
"Heh, let's hope ya do then."
Further into the catacombs however, after a rather sumptuous room without pillars and the many dessicated remains of silk cushions upon chairs, Karlos stopped them at the entrance to another hallway.
"Wh-what is it?!" blustered Kolorado.
"...the design of this hall is off."
"What in blazes do you mean?"
"There's...just something about how this one is laid out that doesn't feel right. The architecture's been altered to allow new modifications."
"What sort of modifications old boy?"
Karlos picked up a rock from the ground, looking along the ground for a place he deemed susceptible. He threw it lightly, as if rolling a ball as it clacked and rolled across the cobblestones. One stone sectuib slowly sank the moment it was touched, sending down a huge blazing wall of fire in front of them. They all stepped back in startlement as the fire scorched the archway, burning the sandstone powerfully so for a few seconds before stopping. Karlos nodded warily.
"I knew it, trap hallway."
"There are traps here too?!" said FG. "I thought that stuff was only in movies!"
"We're entering the holy ground. All the stuff we were in before was the visitors' area, the public access routes. This is the forbidden area, the place only kings and viziers can access, and as such they have it well-guarded with traps. The people of Sarasaland were especially fond of fire and crushing blocks."
"Oh goodie. Well it's my job to protect you guys so how should I handle this?"
"Well unless you got some kind of magic available I-"
The raptor stepped forwards as he looked towards the trap, seeing small metallic spouts in the roof of the hallway hidind behind an archway. He hoped that this would work considering his unsuccessful water harvesting outside in the desert, but hopefully the cooler air would offer more moisture for him to use. He gathered up his energy, fusing the nanos together to form a spout of water successfully from his claws, much to the amazement of his group. But before the water could reach the fire spouts, he blasted a radiating cold through them.
The water crackled into pure ice, spreading out thickly onto the fire spouts and freezing them completely solid. Judging by the temperatures of the underground, it would last long enough for them to pass through.
"Good heavens old bean," exclaimed Kolorado, "you never said you could use magic!"
"Hey, you never asked. This work for you Karlos?"
"U-u-um...perfectly, thanks. Do you think you could handle the traps that lie ahead of us?"
"Juuuust watch me. You tell me what to do, I'll do it for ya."
"Alright then, you and me lead the party."
Staying ahead with Karlos, James followed his analysis and advice on what sort of traps they would encounter, the rest of the group flagging behind gently with amazement at FG's "magic". Many traps lined the many hallways, the torches darkening with each step they took further underground. Swinging poles that dared to bludgeon them were cut down by their sturdy ropes with fire, flamethrowers hidden in the walls were frozen solid. Crushing blocks however could not be dealt with properly, and as such were avoided with extreme caution.
The worst that happened to James was being blindsided by a particularly sneaky trap, a thick stone pole swinging out of a wall to slam into his waist. It wasn't powerful enough to kill, but it certainly wounded him. After being given some medicinal aid to ease his bruises, checking he hadn't broken anything, they moved on.
The crushing blocks were the most worrisome, and almost always in larger halls which were lined with imperial murals of great strength and majesty owing to some king, a lion-shaped pharoah of sorts. While they were easy to avoid, they fell fast enough to throw any explorer off their guard. Another problem that came was the fact that FG was turning tired for some reason. At one point, during a more expansive hall with strange pharoah-headed statues, he said:
"Guys, guys...I...need to rest a bit."
"What's wrong?" asked Koopin.
"My head's kinda swimming, I...nnngh."
"Maybe you're dehydrated?"
"Maybe but...I don't FEEL thirsty, just...my head's really warm and kinda throbbing, like I've been working for eight hours straight."
Kooper offered James a golden-clear tonic, reminiscent of flavoured water. Without question he drank it, taking down half of it with heavy gulps of a growing thirst the moment it touched his lips. Eventually he felt himself being re-energised all of a sudden, perking up with his headache fading away.
"W-woah I feel MUCH better now! Thanks man! What is this stuff?"
"Jammin' Jelly, which I diluted with water to spread out over some jars of it. It helps recover your uh...magic strength? I can't remember the details of it though."
"Yeah, some foods and drinks have nutrients in 'em that help better recover your magical energy, I think it's something to do with uh...boosting the magical arrays within one's mind to allow better transmission?"
"...huh...that...kinda sounds too scientific to be magical."
"Isn't any sufficiently advanced science indistinguishable from magic?"
Koopmar's words made them all turn with bewilderment, before Kolorado said:
"Y-yes...I...suppose it would, very observant Koopmar. This is precisely why I take you along my expeditions old boy."
"Hmhm, it's always a pleasure to learn more."
At that moment however, they felt a powerful rumbling occur throughout the hall, making them almost fall down together. Looking left and right with fearful trepidation, Kolorado exclaimed amidst the loosened falling dust:
"Wh-what in blazes-"
"PROFESSOR, THE ROOF'S COMING DOWN!"
Sure enough, the whole ceiling from above was starting to slowly scale down towards them, a thick sandstone roof completely featureless apart from one mosaic. A radiant sun, burning with fury upon its twisted face of pure anger. The group started to run down the hall, dashing forwards with desperation. James easily outran all of them with his longer legs, holding onto Koopin's hand to pull him along.
Koopin stumbled but kept up as best as he could, with Kooper, Koopmar and Karlos running behind. Kolorado was at the back, his age slowing him down despite his furious pace. Traces of sandstone came tumbling down into dust all around them, as the floor shook with the grinding of unseen ancient gears activated by some unknown trigger. The sun came down on them, closer and closer it came, bearing down unto their heads with a godlike vengeance.
They soon saw the end of the hallway, and the team put their last ounces of energy into the final dash. The ceiling was coming down closer, closing off the door in turn as they ducked through the archway with desperation. James pulled through easily with Koopin in tow, the three assistants having to duck at the last minute to make it. Kolorado, straggling behind, heaved himself through with a tremendous shell-slide, clinging onto his hat before it nearly fell off. The gap closed behind them, missing Kolorado by a few inches above his head.
They took time to recollect themselves, drinking up some water to restore their energies before moving on. James was feeling rather excited about all this, saying:
"Hoooo! That...was awesome."
"AWESOME!?!" chided Kolorado. "Nearly finding oneself to be crushed by a sun made of stone is NOT awesome indeed. It is quite the opposite, and I do not appreciate such improper use with this blasted modern vernacular!"
"Aw come on, the way you slid through that gap like a boss was pretty epic!"
Kolorado began to cool down quick, taking the compliment with some pride as his panicked fury subsided.
"...well I...all about reflexes my boy. Nothing more...you learn to develop these sort of things one day."
"Well I think this is getting TOO dangerous," said Koopin. "I know your expeditions aren't the safest professor, but we were almost squashed like bugs!"
"But the way back has been barred from us old bean," said the professor coolly, "and the only way left is onwards!"
"Besides," said Karlos, "these pyramids always have a back entrance for unceremonial purposes, such as for renovating or removal of something important without being seen."
"Then," asked Koopin, "...why did we come through the front?"
"...actually yeah, why DID we come through the front professor?"
"And miss the lifetime opportunity to discover these ancient ruins the way their people saw them?!" said Kolorado defiantly. "I think NOT good sir, this pyramid is one of the last remaining totems of the Weston Kingdom's empire! And we're going to make damn well sure that these people are not forgotten! Can you imagine that?! To be forgotten is worse than death itself!"
"And if we end up dead here, that won't matter either way."
"You always have this argument with me every time we go halfway through some blasted place! You sound just like my wife sometimes Karlos, and I have always survived every excavation without losing anyone! Have some FAITH in me for once!"
"But sir I-"
"I am paying you all to accompany me. You ALL agreed to this and if things are getting too dangerous for you lot, then quite frankly you chaps are stuck with me to the end! I don't enjoy risking my neck out there every month to discover ancient treasures and show them to the world as a remnant of people long forgotten! I enjoy FINDING it but the whole slog of peril can get too much sometimes! But somebody has to do it, and blast it all that somebody is going to be ME. Now...Karlos, where exactly are we now?"
After the professor's rant, they all fell silent before Karlos was asked a question, as he rolled his eyes at the professor's false modesty and gazed around the room they were in. The room was far larger than any other, and as soon as the others became aware of their surroundings, they became awestruck once again. A grand almost rectangular room, with tall steps leading up like a ballroom staircase towards a higher room, guarded by some unseen totem in the shape of a giant head.
Torches lined the walls resplendently ever-burning. Walls lined with golden paint started to glimmer faintly across murals. Ancient scriptures glowed before their very eyes with caught Koopmar's attention, as Karlos said:
"We...we must be close to the throne room now, and beyond that is the burial chamber. That'll be where our exit is. We should be real careful now, since we're near the king's private rooms they'll be much more well-guarded."
"B-but," stammered Kooper delicately, "d-do you think anything may be...cursed?"
"I don't think so Kooper, I haven't seen any indication of any curses."
"M-m-maybe it is! We gotta be careful, I mean I might be able to handle a li'l finger-waving at me but what if it's worse?! Like maybe it's why people go missing around the area or something, like those climbers up in Shiver City!"
"Oh them?" said FG. "They got home a couple of weeks ago or something."
"Yeah, uh, someone found them, this guy called Fridrik. Heh, turns out there was this frost pirahna...plant thing that was making blizzards and kidnapping climbers or some shit."
"Wow...where was that?"
"Like, inside the shiver mountain, or whatever it's called."
"Mount Shiver," corrected Koopin, "and we were there actually when it happened, me and James helped get 'em out."
"Heh, yeaaaaah," said FG with admittance. "Me, Koopin, Fridrik, we kicked its ass until it melted."
"Woooow...man, I never knew there was anything like that when I was up there with Mario...that palace was creepy though."
"The one on top of Mt. Shiver?"
Koopin said this with a reminding tone, secretly wondering why FG was so humble, but Karlos decided to move the party onwards by asking:
"Anything on those murals Koopmar?"
"Maybe," said the translator, "it says something about this place being the source of great power-"
"-throne room, of course."
"And that...if one wishes to meet the king after his time has passed...then they must face the guardian of this palace before an audience can be met."
"What is it?!" exclaimed Koopin.
"...I may have said something bad."
"What kind of bad!?"
"Guardian summoning bad."
At that moment, they heard a rumbling sound from the end of the great hall. From the top of the steps came a small waterfall of rocks and dust sweeping down the stairs, as the statue began to move. A huge-headed statue, with stubby muscular arms and legs and some sort of shaded visor made of rock over its eyes. Thick ancient bangles studded with white jewels glistened upon its wrists, as it slowly began to walk down the stairs with Kooper saying:
"Hiyoihoi," said Karlos. "They were the guardian race of the Easton Kingdom, they must have come along the trading route to establish this pyramid."
James readied himself for battle, reaching for his scissors slowly. Koopin was nervous as were the other three assistants. Kolorado however strided forth and stood defiantly before the apparent guardian.
"Now see here good sir! If you're the one responsible for all this rumbling and tumbling I would like you to stop that at once! We are here to preserve and learn about your kingdom's history! We are not mere tomb raiders or jewel thieves, anything we would obtain would be safe and preserved in a museum, where this world's descendants shall gaze upon your glory, and-"
With surprising swiftness, the guardian lobbed a small boulder straight towards Kolorado, who was shoved out of the way by FG before he tried to deflect the rock. He wasn't able to put enough weight behind it in time, and stumbled backwards hard as the rock clanged off his scissors. Bruised with some of the force, he stood his ground as the guardian readied another boulder, seemingly from out of nowhere.
James however was more prepared, readying a blast of wind to surge around himself the moment it threw a rock at him. As soon as the boulder flew through the air, the raptor roared back a furious gale, sharply swinging the rock back at the Hiyoihoi's cumbersome head rather awkwardly. This angered the guardian greatly, who began to jump high into the air and slam down hard onto the ground, causing another deep rumble of the pyramid to occur. Then they heard a crumbling from above.
Rocks, somehow formed from the air, began to tumble down on all of them, spaced out in a strangely unnatural way. With panicked gait, the six explorers dodged as best as they could, with FG deflecting half of the rocks using a combination of both scissor strikes and wind techniques. He had practiced little with such an element, but he found it useful enough in handling projectile attacks of a physical nature.
Using the rocks from above, he blasted several of them back at the Hiyoihoi, pummelling it brutally with its own geomancy to the point of cracking its sloped Moai-style nose. Soon half of its visor fell off, revealing a dark hollow eye underneath, marked by a heavy brow. James was not intimidated, charging forwards with as powerful a strike as he could possibly make, cracking further into the cracks made upon its body.
The guardian was not done however, as it leapt once more from the ground to throw more boulders upon the party. Koopin dodged with Koopmar, the two falling almost simultaneously together and nearly dropping their supplies in the chaos. Kolorado however was not intimidated, charging forwards with his walking stick at hand as he roared with daring-do. Unfortunately the shockwave effect of the guardian dropping like a stone back onto the ground caused him to fall back and roll across the floor.
But James was waiting for this chance, striking hard across the sculpted nose in its increasing decay, the guardian readily trying to block the scissors with its stone fists. Despite its mighty swings, it did not expect such swift blocks from the raptor, who slammed the flat of the blades against the bangled wrists before shoving the Hiyoihoi forwards. The stonelike beast stumbled backwards with its head nearly overbalancing itself.
Seeing his opportunity, James charged forwards and swung low at the stubbier legs of the beast, using the flat of his blade to slam straight into the back of its legs, overthrowing it off-balance to cause it to fall down completely. However it wasn't enough due to the strong stone legs, but he received help in the form of a blue shell suddenly striking out of nowhere straight for the head.
He almost fell himself from the unexpected sight, the blue shell cracking the stone face hard with the force of a baseball, but the raptor quickly recovered with an impromptu handstand to bounce away with, shaky from the slight vertigo as the guardian fell unto its back. The moment it did, it started to crumble, helpless like a flipped-over turtle. The koopas could sympathise somewhat, before its ageless face disintegrated.
As everyone slowly gathered their balance and checked themselves for injuries, Koopin noticed a strange small object lying beside him. A small black pearl, more like a dark purple amethyst with a strange blackened cross upon its smooth surface. It looked like a large marble to him, as he went over to Koopmar with it.
"Hey uh Koopmar?"
"I uh found this on the ground, you think it means somethi-"
Koopmar swiped it unceremoniously from Koopin's hand, almost hurting him with the force he snatched it with. Koopin rubbed his hand nervously, looking at the assistant strangely.
"Um...wh-what is it?"
"...nothing, sorry this is just...it's very important to me."
"Ohhh...something you're researching?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry for being so rude, did I hurt you?"
"No no it's fine, just...surprised is all."
"It's fine it's fine, sorry again, thank you for picking it up."
As the translator walked off while a little shaken by the small temporary loss of his item, Koopin looked at him strangely with no idea what to make of him. He reasoned eventually that it was some sort of good luck charm, and as the tradition goes, one must never show their good luck charm to others for fear of rendering it no longer effective. He walked over to James, beaming up at him with pride as the raptor panted slightly, his arm muscles a little sore and shaky.
"Good going James! That was pretty cool!"
"I must say," said Kolorado, "you're getting your work cut out for you old bean! But of course I was glad to assist in the small battle myself."
"Heh, sure, you were a real help there man."
At being useless but brave with a walking stick, thought FG to himself. Least he tries though, can't blame him for that.
"Alright lads," resumed Kolorado, "time we head onwards to the final area! The throne room. Who knows what tantalising treasures await us there?"
"Curses!" said Kooper with both fear and excitement.
"No no no my boy, treasures not curses, chin up! Just keep calm and carry on!"
"W-wait wait!" said FG. "Who the hell smacked that guy's face and knocked him down?!"
"That'd be me!"
Kooper raised a finger proudly so, with FG nodding in approval.
"Not bad dude, when were you gonna bring out your moves?"
"Ohhh when we needed them. Hopefully we won't need them anymore in this place."
"Well that's all fair and well," said Kolorado, "but now's the time for action! ONWARDS!"
Striding out in front as he headed up the stairs, professor Kolorado ascended towards the throne room of the Weston Kingdom ruins. James kept close behind him, ready to attack any more potential guardians of this sacred tomb. Koopin kept in the middle, nervous beside the experienced yet still uncertain Kooper. The moment they saw the throne room itself, they were lost within its majesty.
Solid gold all around them untarnished by the ages, far more shiny than any other room they had seen and in great quantity. Riches and wares from every corner of the world had been gathered here, stored in pots. Luxuriantly preserved cotton from Sarasaland itself, amazingly well-preserved beans from ancient times of the Beanbean Kingdom, and well-grown ancient mushrooms kept intact from the Mushroom Kingdom itself.
But the centrepiece of the chamber itself was what drew their eye initially. An enormous lion-shaped statue, the only thing in the room not made of gold, but instead made of solid sandstone. Resting on all fours at a height of 15 feet tall, Its gaze was strong, its mouth open with a snarl of pride and power. A pharoah's headdress was chiselled around its head in place of a mane. James was surprised at why such a creature would even be known of in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Karlos however was awestruck by the majesty of the apparent ruler of this kingdom's pyramid. Then he saw Koopmar scanning the walls, as his face turned pale.
"K-koopmar? What is it?"
"...this...this tomb...this king..."
"Wh-who is it?!"
"...it...King Totomesu III."
"You heard that right."
"But...no...the missing Muda King?!"
"There's no one else it could be. The inscriptions on this wall are very specific to the Muda Kingdom, and it specifically lists his father Totomesu II. What do you think professor? ...professor?"
Kolorado had been listening to every word, but his eyes were transfixed upon one special jewel placed upon the centre of the sphinx's head, a beautiful red ruby cut in a very particular fashion the size of a koopa's head. It appeared to be in the shape of a glistening fireball, even containing an amber-coloured center.
"It is...it IS Totomesu!"
"WHAT?!" exclaimed everyone.
"That jewel! The Fire of Muda! The very centrepiece of the Totomesu family line! The Sarasalese have been searching for it for YEARS and no one has ever found it! ...this king must have taken it with him to this kingdom! ...and yet they thought he was missing!"
"Was he really missing," added James, "...or did he run away?"
"Whatever do you mean?!"
"I'm kinda looking at the pictures up there, but...doesn't that smaller guy look like he's arguing with the bigger guy before running away?"
James pointed up towards two lion-like figures upon the mural, the smaller enraged at the elder before running away with a small rock inside its paw. The rest of the story seemed to play out their correct observations of the Weston Kingdom's creation, through the establishment of a trade. Kolorado however was suspicious, as was Koopmar who said:
"But...King Totomesu II died around this era. ...was this the last time he saw his son?"
"Or maybe," added Kolorado, "maybe he left for a reason...that jewel was never away from King Totomesu II, never. ...there's only one way anyone could steal it from him. And it would have to be someone he knew. The last person he would ever meet."
FG dared to make the guess on what he was implying.
"...you saying he...killed his own dad?"
"Precisely. It is an estimate but I know for a fact that King Totomesu II would never let anyone else have that jewel, over his own dead body. In this case literally."
"...shit, that's pretty bad. All for some gemstone?"
"The Fire of Muda is more than just a jewel. It is a symbol of their land...by taking that jewel, he took away his father's legacy for himself to another world."
"Was this guy an asshole afterwards, ruling over this place?"
"Uhm, a jerk."
"Well...there are not many records of him, we know nothing of THIS place, we were the first to arrive here! But we can possibly decipher these inscriptions far easier from the pictures Kooper took when we leave this place. But for now...I want that jewel."
His eyes almost never left that glistening gem centred upon the very head of King Totomesu III's visage. Despite his age, he was certainly more than eager to go climbing the edifice of the statue, grappling with wrinkled fingers and a stern complexion, his moustache twitching with sweat.
"S-sir, be careful!" warned Karlos.
"Worry not my lad! This-ungh...sandstone statue is...rather perfect for climbing on! Won't be a jiffy!"
But things would soon take a turn for the unexpected the moment the professor gripped his fingers upon the prized jewel. As he felt along its glistening red and amber lines, strangely warm despite the tomb itself being cool underground, a rumbling began to occur once more. The team were getting sick of this constant rumbling and just wished the pyramid got the whole thing out of its system. Until they realised it was not the pyramid doing all the work.
The statue started to shift with dust flowing all around it, unsettling itself as one of its huge paws began to move. Scraping the ground beneath with a mighty KRRUUUUK, it began to lift its joint upwards, the professor hanging onto the head for dear life as he panicked somewhat. His assistants panicked even more when the head slowly moved, its eyes gazing up directly at Kolorado.
"WHO DARES TO STEAL MY KINGDOM'S SYMBOL?"
The voice resonated from the now-living sphinx statue, its jaw creaking with each word it spoke. The voice was deep, powerful and grinding, like a boulder rolling through a stream. Kolorado stammered his response while hanging onto the jewel desperately.
"W-w-we are just...archaeologists good sir! F-forgive me for asking, but...are you by chance King Totomesu III?"
"HMMMM...YOU RECOGNISE MY LEGACY, DESCENDANT OF NOKOBON?"
"Indeed! W-we are but explorers, uncovering the past in order to teach our people how you and your kind lived, how you worked, how you ruled over all!"
"YET YOUR HAND IS PLACED UPON THE SYMBOL OF MY PEOPLE. YOU SPEAK OF EDUCATION YET YOUR BODY SPEAKS OF GRATIFICATION. DO NOT LIE TO ME, NOKOBON-DESCENDANT."
"H-H-HOW DARE YOU! I am NOT some common thief good sir, I am Professor Kolorado, student of Professor Frankly and scholar of the past! You should be honoured I would even make attempts to study your race, your kingdom, your very history!"
"HONOURED? YOU HONOUR ME BY INVADING MY DOMAIN, DEFEATING MY TRUSTED GUARDIAN AND STEALING MY JEWEL?!"
"IT'S NOT EVEN YOURS!"
James stepped forwards with a snarl of dominance, challenging the former king with one hand to his sheathed blades.
"We know what's written on your walls! You took that jewel from your own dad, it's not even yours!"
"JAMES, BE QUIET!" shouted Kolorado.
"If you're gonna call us thieves, at least don't be a FUCKING HYPOCRITE!"
The great pharoah snarled its ancient maw, with teeth of stone rearing back to roar a mighty bellow across the hall. The power of its voice was enough to deafen them all, sending all but James down to the ground with pain ringing through their minds. Kolorado fell from the beast's head, only to be grabbed by one giant paw, clutched in the king's left embrace like a toy.
"YOU DARE TO CALL ME A THIEF, NOKOBON-DESCENDANTS?! FOR YOUR INSOLENCE, I SHALL LEAVE YOUR HOMELAND IN RUINS!"
With its other empty paw, King Totomesu slammed down hard on the floor, sending a powerful earthquake throughout that threatened to throw them back. Kolorado panicked at first, screaming for help from the clutches of the pharoah.
James however was getting straight into the upcoming battle, waiting for the king to make his first move which came in the form of a tremendous fireball blast. One single ball of fire burned down from its leonine jaws, bursting onto the ground like a shrapnel grenade. But the flames merely dissipated upon missing their target, as James quickly dodged to one side before bringing up his own "magic ball" from his hand. But then Karlos grabbed his arm.
"NO, YOU'LL HIT THE PROFESSOR!"
"NO I WON'T!"
Shoving Karlos hard and away from him, he had an idea already in mind, getting the hang of his nanos and the elemental counters that came with it. Seeing this beast to be a fire-based creature, he waited for the next blast of fire to come from its mouth, all while it wielded the captive Kolorado. As its ancient maw glowed a most violent red, James fired up his attack, blasting a freezing-cold slalom of ice water straight into its throat. A gargling roar of pain came from the creature, who struggled to shake off the shivering feel as it got nasty.
Using its other paw to slam down upon the intruders, the place shook and trembled with its might, forcing the explorers to bend down or hold onto each other and regain their balance. Kooper however had an idea, ducking into his shell and spinning himself a furious wind. A small tornado came around his blue carapace, before he somehow uplifted himself off the ground and slalomed straight between the sphinx's eyes. Snarling from the pain, it somehow looked rather stunned, shaking its head back and forth with an unfocused gaze briefly.
"USE YOUR FIRE!" he called out to James.
"FIRE, ON THE JEWEL RIGHT THERE!"
Not even questioning a koopa who could pull off such a move, he readied a powerful fireball within his palms, as strong as he possibly could before shooting it straight towards the jewel. It struck solidly so, warming up the gem somewhat, but not enough to cause any damage. James' nanos weren't hot enough to make it really burn enough, as Kooper readied himself with another attack alongside FG.
"You sure got ballsy all a sudden," he said to Kooper.
"You spend enough time with Mario, you learn a lot along the way. I'm gonna use my Fire Shell, cover me!"
King Totomesu soon recovered however, as his eyes became less dizzy enough to start slamming its paw down onto his foes once more, forcing the entire group to duck and cover, even rolling sometimes with their natural shells. James however readied another few blasts straight for the eyes, whacking away with his fire to keep the king well-distracted from Kooper. It almost worked, if it wasn't for the fact he could still see a flaming blue shell charge straight towards him.
Raising his unoccupied paw to protect his face, he grabbed Kooper out of the air like a ball, squeezing him firmly within his grip as the blue-shelled koopa squirmed and panicked. While it wasn't planning to use its closed fists as weapons now, it still had its tremendous fire blast for use as it blasted another great ball of fire straight at the remaining group. This time however the king made sure to protect itself with his hostages whenever FG tried to fight back with ice, rendering him incapable of not harming them.
Kolorado however wasn't taking this well, squeezing out a hand from the tight-fisted grip and pulling out his walking stick from his backpack, swinging it straight into the pharoah's eye.
"UNHAND ME YOU CHARLATAN!"
The king did exactly that the moment it felt the small stick in his eye, dropping Kolorado in order to rub at its eye instinctively. As the older koopa fell with an unexpected scream, Koopin dashed forwards in a panic to try and catch him, flattened completely by the professor who bounced off of him.
"NNGH, g-good catch lad!"
Now directly beneath a huge stone paw, Koopin and Kolorado were in danger of being squashed, until FG shot out a blast of ice straight into its irritated eye. The creature roared with frustration and swiped out at the raptor, who dodged from the slow but powerful swings whilst Koopin and Kolorado fleed. Readying his aim, he waited for the right moment to make it rub its other eye, before firing straight for its left eye which was closer to Kooper.
But the moment he shot out his strongest fireball, a strange dark energy seemed to come from behind James, merging with his fireball to create an ultra-powerful blast. Sweeping up the fire power as it flew past above James, it pounded straight into the beast's eye, a tremendous roar of agony to be their reward. The pain was enough that it caused him to drop Kooper, who quickly grabbed onto one thick paw-finger and swung himself onto its arm.
Spinning into his blue shell, Kooper readily stirred up a most powerful torrent of flame around him, the pure friction of his energy causing flames to ignite like a small tornado storm. With all of his might, he slammed straight into the mighty sphinx's jewel, connecting strongly enough to cause a violent deep burn within its head. The jewel reacted, burning with a furious rage as King Totomesu cried with anguish.
Slamming its paws onto the ground before struggling to grasp at its head, it soon lolled around back and forth as it tried to contain its agony, the red stone of Muda blazing strong with its newly-formed heat, burning straight through the sandstone face of its new owner. The king's face started to burn, its earthen eyes sinking into its collapsing mask as its paws made one last slam onto the floor, daring to threaten the very integrity of the pyramid structure.
With the stone melting into a blackening char, the pharoah was now truly resting in peace, its head soon caving in on itself as the jewel slipped down out of its khufu headwear, clinking gently in front of Kolorado's group. Behind the sphinx's body, laid a long barely-lit tunnel, its faint light signifying an exit. The Fire of Muda started to cool, simmering down once more to become just another rare red ruby with amber centre. The professor picked it up gently, carefully storing it inside his backpack.
"Well," he said nervously, "that was...rather fascinating. We uncover an ancient tomb of a faraway populace, obtain proof of ancient trade and ancestral heritage...and discover the fate of a missing king who quite likely murdered his own father and stole his jewel."
"All in a day's work," said FG snarkily.
"Indeed! ...right, I do believe it is time we left. Do we have everything we need?"
The group nodded as they rechecked their items over, allowing routine to help keep their minds stable after the rather tremendous battle against an ancient pharoah. Koopmar had his translations noted down of the pyramid's history, Kooper had his photographs, Karlos had managed to obtain some important documents relating to the Weston Kingdom's trade, and Kolorado had the Fire of Muda.
With nothing more to say, they vacated the Weston Kingdom ruins, which despite their name had been kept surprisingly immaculate. Yet as they clambered out a diagonal passage towards the light of the desert sun, James silently pondered on one thing that bothered him.
What the hell was that dark energy that made my nano fire so powerful? Was it someone else? Was it me? ...was it...him?
Resigning himself eventually to never knowing the answer, especially when it did not matter now, he left with the group, stepping out once more into the hot arid desert. The only thing left was the train ride back home, and their negotiations upon payment. James hoped that Koopin would push for a good amount considering the danger they had been put in. He almost kept his eyes on Koopin the entire time they walked back to the station, but looked away unseen when he realised. He didn't want to fall into that trap all over again.